This summer AS Roma President James Pallotta appears to be developing a resemblance to an F. Scott Fitzgerald character. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars, wrote the American novelist of Jay Gatsby. Change the ‘blue gardens’ for a green turf and the rest falls into place: the whisperings are those of the mercato, the champagne is that of Coach Rudi Garcia’s football, and the stars – well, the stars could be the players, but also those on the American flag.
Make no mistake, the most significant aspect of Roma’s 1-0 victory over Real Madrid two days ago was not the form of the team, nor its tactics, nor its individual players. Rather it is the increasing internationalisation, or should we say Americanisation, of this particular group of players. Even for a pre-season warm-up tournament like the Guinness International Champions Cup, Roma looked quite relaxed, almost – and fittingly – at home.
Pallotta more so than anyone else, as he took the opportunity to talk big - or talk smack - and claim that his team can compete for both the Scudetto and the Champions League. Moreover, he chose to put down the candidate for the FIGC presidency Carlo Tavecchio: “Our position has been clear for a long time now: I don’t understand how he can be a candidate. He is not our President. And I don’t understand how other clubs can support him at all.”
These words – and the philosophy, the attitude, the approach that these words belie – are uncommon in Italian football. The peninsula discourse is usually much more subtle (Andrea Agnelli), or so blustery that it verges on self-parody (Aurelio De Laurentiis). It is seldom direct.
If the words seem to hold no significance to you, if the where and the how of Roma’s current summer games seem not to matter, then consider the Juan Manuel Iturbe affair, and the plans for the new stadium. One could talk endlessly about the formation, the mercato and the Scudetto, but the one common thread of the Roman summer is this - the Giallorossi are donning a new face. Or at least they’re preparing for it. And what this season will test, or begin to test, is the identity of what can now truly be called Pallotta’s Roma, as the political and commercial strategies pursued by the club are truly coming into their own and are therefore increasingly accountable.
What are the risks? The silverware at stake should not be of concern, at least not as long as the team plays for a magnified pint of Guinness. The matter of concern is how Pallotta’s Roma will clash with the rest of Italian football. Because more and more this looks like a new team, like a new idea of a team. They say that when a new element comes into an environment, the environment can do one of two things - reject the element or change to accommodate it. This is but one of the arenas where the conflict will play out this year. Be prepared for a silent war.